Bafta nominated for their first series on E4, Cardinal Burns have upgraded to Channel 4 for their second. This is no mean feat for the exuberant and absurd duo, who represent sketch success at a time of some uncertainty for the genre.
At a screening of the second series last night, at the apposite venue of Bafta, Rachel Springett, Channel 4’s comedy commissioning editor, hailed Dustin Demri-Burns and Seb Cardinal’s achievements and promised a second series that was ‘more anarchic, darker and more cinematic’ than the first.
The fact that Cardinal Burns is filmed with the same camera as was used for space blockbuster Gravity may have something to do with the show’s cinematic feel, but producer Jenna Jones indicated that there is more to it that that. ‘The boys write in a very visual and ambitious way, and it was clear to me from that start that they would make the transition to TV very successfully.’
The pair met at film school and so this eye for cinematic composition perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise. Particular examples of it include Young Dreams, their Made in Chelsea-like spoof returning from the first series, and new sketch Hashtag and Bukake, the minor adventures writ large of two Turkish minicab drivers whose style and machismo belong to the cheesier buddy movies of the 1980s.
Hashtag and Bukake and The Office Flirt, another returning sketch, have what Burns acknowledges as a ‘bromance’ quality about them. Many of Cardinal Burns sketches are long-form (inspired, in part, by their love of US sketch comedy Human Giant) and so the buddy dynamic is one of the ingredients that helps sustain an ‘epic’ quality to their output.
‘Often the boys send me ten pages of notes on a sketch and they could be easily expandable to be their own sitcom,’ explains Jones. ‘This is why we sometimes split stories into two.’ Cardinal however, remains wary about sketches becoming ‘too soapy – that would detract from the characters’.
The vision of Cardinal and Burns and the camerawork are factors also complemented by a risk-taking approach to production. Flying in world champion skippers for just one sketch was one such gamble, and was seen as a justifiable expense.
The creative process itself is generally more down-to-earth, however. ‘We spend a lot of time in cafes,’ says Burns. ‘Yes, we eavesdrop,’ adds Cardinal, ‘and end up taking notes from that.”’ After which the group dynamic either sees the duo ‘sitting in a room and jamming’ or assuming more prescribed roles: ‘I’m the typer, he’s the pacer,’ says Burns.
When not locked into a room the two men are still road-testing their material in live venues and will be going out on their first ever tour in September. Sometimes characters never make it from the stage to the screen. ‘A lot got dropped and a lot had to be started over again,’ admits Burns of the first series. However, the advantage of the live experience is ‘the instant feedback,’ he adds.
While there is no rulebook for what makes a Cardinal Burns sketch, there are some no-nos. ‘No sketches with two builders,’ says Burns; ‘none in a doctor’s surgery.’ adds Cardinal, ‘and they don’t do period stuff as such’, chips in Jones. Burns also suggests the pair are ‘not that good at punchlines’, but there is evidence to suggest otherwise.
Of all the things that Cardinal and Burns have in common, their French heritage could be a factor overlooked in its importance. ‘We both have French dads and our mums are from Essex,’ explains Cardinal. ‘So obviously, because of that, we thought ‘hang on, let’s put a sketch group together!’